May 10, 2005

If you can read this . . .

If you are reading this, chances are that you are not Guatemalan. Or, at least, that you did not spend your formative years in Guatemala. What do I mean by this? Simple. Guatemala has a huge literacy problem. We witnessed it first hand on the plane coming home. To give credit where credit is due, my wife picked up on it first and clued me in.

A substantial number of people boarding the plane to NY in Guatemala City could not read their boarding passes. The crew, knowing this, had to tell them where they were sitting by either leading the passengers to their seats, almost taking them by their hands, or by pointing to exactly which seat they had. One of the crew confirmed to my wife that a lot of people boarding in Guatemala could not read and needed the crew to fill out all of their immigration and customs forms. The crew did say that some of the passengers asked them to do it out of laziness and not because they couldn't read, but still. The crew came from El Salvador, by the way.

Can you imagine what that must be like? Navigating the rocks and shoals of modern life without being able to make sense of the world around you? Or, maybe you compensate, like where one sense gets stronger when another when gets weaker. Beats me. But to be deprived of reading poetry.

The literacy rates are very poor, according to the research I've done. Actually, one UNESCO graph is particularly interesting because it casts the information in the form of illiteracy percentages. If you click on the link, you will see that almost 4 out of every 10 Guatemalan women are illiterate and about 2.5 out of every 10 men are illiterate. Those numbers tower over all of the other countries UNESCO includes in their graph.

One aspect of the literacy problem fairly leaps off the page: the disparity between literacy rates for men and for women. This suggests that women have much more restricted access to formal education than the men do. It also suggests that women have it much tougher in general in Guatemalan society. Or, at least, maybe they do. I don't really know enough to fully draw that last conclusion. But is does suggest that, ipso facto, fewer opportunities exist for women as we in the developed world understand those opportunities.

No matter how you look at it, it's a total mess.

Still, I don't want to leave this topic with the implication that there is no hope. Since 1980, some 25 years ago, the rate of adult illiteracy has dropped from 47% of the population to 29.5%. That suggests hope, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at May 10, 2005 04:04 PM

The funny thing about illiterate people is you can write funny things about them and they will never know! Same goes for the Amish! How's that for comic relief? !

About the post below...Boy Child and my little girl Natalie are similar. My little one is learning both Norsk and Engelsk. It's amazing what these little minds soak up! It astounds me daily. she is already able to understand, under 2 years of age, that I prefer she speak English and Mamma likes to hear Norsk.

Posted by: dr Pants at May 11, 2005 07:53 PM

We just don't realize that some foreign educational systems are so cruddy and/or non-existent. But, it was like that in part of America years ago, too.

25 years ago I worked with an older black man originally from Mississippi. O'd estimate that he was born around 1920 and grew up in the '20s and '30s.

He'd never gone to school when he was growing up and was almost completely illiterate. But, he'd still give a go every so often. At the age of about 60, he would look at a sign and try to read it.

"No... sni..smock... smoking... no smoking! Is that right?"

He was a character and I can't believe that I've forgotten his name after all these years.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 12, 2005 10:08 PM

Yep, now we can all read in America, but we still get taught that it's okay to dissect live dogs in class, that Palestine was a country stolen from the indigenous people by the Jews, and that the world was created in six days a mere 6000 years ago. Fat lot of good reading does some people! For details, see my latest posts.

Posted by: Mark at May 15, 2005 02:15 AM
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